AFC West: Kansas City Chiefs

They all dream of finding the next star player, the one nobody else knows about. That’s how football scouts kill the endless hours on the road. But the reality? It just doesn’t happen much anymore. In the age of YouTube, it’s as easy for fans to research players as scouts.

That doesn’t stop them, Kansas City Chiefs general manager John Dorsey included, from trying. His team is no different from any of the others but perhaps a little more inclined to look for players in obscure places.

The Chiefs’ roster is well stocked with players from tiny football schools as well as those in the so-called power conferences. They have one player from Alabama, but also one from West Alabama. They have one each from Penn State and Pittsburgh but two from California of Pennsylvania.

They have two former Ivy Leaguers, a guy who before joining the Chiefs never played beyond junior college and one who didn’t play football in college at all. He was a basketball player.

[+] EnlargeJohn Dorsey
Denny Medley/USA TODAY SportsFrom the CFL to college basketball, Chiefs GM John Dorsey has used numerous avenues to find talent.
While a scout for the Green Bay Packers, Dorsey twice went to Australia to find a punter. One of them didn’t work out but the other, Chris Bryan, kicked for a time in the NFL, not with the Packers but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“We all have our avenues to find players," Dorsey said. “There are different ways of doing it. It’s my responsibility to the Kansas City Chiefs to do everything within our power to make sure we’ve got everything covered. We’re going to do that because if you’re not out there working, somebody else is and they’ll find those guys. Everybody does such a thorough job now.

“In today’s football, it’s really hard because all 32 teams are doing their due diligence in terms of working to unearth talent. The objective is to get real players. Anybody can go and find obscure players but they have to be able to play at the end of the day."

The ability to mine players from out-of-the-way places isn’t a bad one to have this time of year, with the draft looming. The Chiefs are down to six picks this year, having sent their second-round choice to the San Francisco 49ers in last year’s trade that brought quarterback Alex Smith.

So they could use a late-round or undrafted player to come through and replace at least some of the long-term production they probably would have received from that second-round pick.

Perhaps that player is already on their roster. He might be Weston Dressler, a tiny but quick slot receiver the Chiefs signed over the winter after he played several seasons in the Canadian Football League. It could be Mike Catapano, a seventh-round pick last season from Princeton who showed uncommon ability to rush the quarterback for a one-time Ivy Leaguer.

Yet another candidate is tight end Demetrius Harris, who played basketball but not football in college at Wisconsin-Milwaukee. It’s no longer rare for football teams to try to make a tight end from a former power forward, but Harris, who was once a standout high school football player in Arkansas, attracted the attention of the Chiefs in a typical Dorsey way.

“I was down at the [high school] all-star game maybe two or three years ago, Texas vs. the Nation. I happened to be out to dinner and was talking to some gentleman and he started talking about great high school players from Arkansas who didn’t play football in college. He said to keep an eye on [Harris] because he was all-state and this and that. I always have a Franklin planner with me where I keep notes. I just wrote down his name with the note to research him when he was eligible for the draft.

“I have a lot of those notes in that planner from conversations I’ve had about players who might not be eligible for the draft for two or three years."

The Chiefs last spring looked into Harris, who had finished his collegiate eligibility. They were in on him early and aggressively.

Word eventually spread around the NFL about Harris and though neither the Chiefs nor any other team drafted Harris, he became the object of a post-draft signing battle with Kansas City and the Baltimore Ravens among the finalists.

Harris signed with the Chiefs as much out of loyalty for their early interest as anything else.

“Demetrius just felt comfortable there," said Matthew Pope, Harris’ agent. “We needed a long-term commitment and the Chiefs were willing to give us their word on that.

“John’s history is that he’s not going to look at where the player comes from. He’ll just look at what the player does."

Harris spent his rookie season on the Chiefs’ practice squad. Much of that time was spent getting reacquainted with football. But late in the year he showed signs of developing into a player.

“He did a nice job in his year on the practice squad," Dorsey said. “Remember that he hadn’t played football in four years. He started to get in the groove about Week 12 or 13. He started to feel comfortable and get back in football shape."

The odds against Harris ever becoming another Jimmy Graham or Antonio Gates are great. But if he does, give Dorsey some credit for finding a great player who at least for a time nobody else knew about.
The Kansas City Chiefs will gather as a group at their practice facility on Monday for the first time since losing their wild-card playoff game to the Indianapolis Colts in January. The Chiefs are among the NFL teams that will begin their off-season workout program.

The first two weeks of the program will mainly consist of strength, conditioning and physical rehabilitation for players who need it. Over the subsequent three weeks the Chiefs may get on the practice field, but no team offense vs. defense drills are permitted.

Practice begins for the Chiefs on May 24 with the start of a three-day rookie camp. Full-squad practice begins on May 27.

The program concludes with a three-day mini-camp that begins on June 17.

Training camp at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph will begin in late July.
In all but his first mock draft of the year, ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has been consistent in giving a wide receiver to the Kansas City Chiefs with their first-round pick.

Kiper hasn't changed that in his latest mock draft Insider. But he has switched receivers for the Chiefs.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

For those with ESPN Insider access, Steve Muench has some suggestions Insider
for the Kansas City Chiefs and their three top picks in this year's draft.

Muench suggests Indiana wide receiver Cody Latimer for the Chiefs in the first round. They have no more pressing positional need and ideally they could find someone capable of eventually replacing Dwayne Bowe as their No. 1 receiver. Latimer is big (6-2 1/2, 215 pounds) and fast (4.44 40-yard dash) and could eventually develop into that player. Even if not, he's another capable body to throw into their receiving mix. Muench's thought that the Chiefs could trade back a few spots, pick up an extra draft pick or two and still get Latimer is a solid one. The Chiefs have only six picks this year, having sent their second-rounder to San Francisco in last year's trade that brought quarterback Alex Smith.

Moving on to the third round, Muench gives the Chiefs Stanford guard David Yankey. He is advanced enough that he should be able as a rookie to step into the starting right guard spot vacated by the free-agent departures of Geoff Schwartz and Jon Asamoah. The Chiefs have some candidates on their roster to step in and start at right guard but none has the potential or skills of Yankey. Depth on the offensive line is also a concern for the Chiefs after the lost Schwartz, Asamoah and tackle Branden Albert.

Muench assigns to the Chiefs in the fourth round Minnesota defensive back Brock Vereen. He can cover slot receivers but also has safety skills. The Chiefs lost two of their top three safeties from last season, Kendrick Lewis and Quintin Demps. At this point, the unproven Sanders Commings looks to be first in line as the starting free safety. The Chiefs added veteran Chris Owens to their mix at cornerback, but having another player with versatile skills in their secondary couldn't hurt.

Muench's top three picks address three of the Chiefs' biggest needs. The Chiefs would be happy if they could pull this off. Would you?
After losing Dexter McCluster and Quintin Demps to free agency, look for the Kansas City Chiefs to draft at least one player with kickoff and punt return skills. The Chiefs had one of the best return games in the league last season, but only Knile Davis remains as one of their return specialists. Davis is still new to the return game and can handle kickoffs but not punts so the Chiefs are in need of some help.

ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. recently talked about some of the top return specialists in the draft and began with running backs Dri Archer of Kent State and De'Anthony Thomas of Oregon.

"Those would be the two guys that jump out because they have tremendous versatility and they've already proven they can get the job done in that area," Kiper said. "I think John Brown is an underrated guy, a sleeper-type out of Pittsburg State. Can return punts, kicks. Did a great job. He also caught the ball I thought very well. I think John Brown ... could be a guy late in the draft that really helps out in that area."

Some of the wide receivers who could be available to the Chiefs with their first-round pick also have return skills. This group includes LSU's Odell Beckham Jr., Oregon State's Brandin Cooks and USC's Marqise Lee. Beckham could wind up being the best return specialist in this year's draft.

"I don't mention those guys because you certainly wouldn't prefer your No. 1 receiver, your No. 2 receiver to be doing that necessarily," Kiper said. "Odell Beckham could be a No. 1 (receiver). Cooks is going to be an outstanding slot receiver. Early in their careers, they can do that ... but you want to make sure that doesn't lead to an injury."

Beckham or Cooks would probably be part-time players for the Chiefs as rookies. I would expect either one to get the chance to be the No. 1 return specialist in Kansas City.
It's no secret the Kansas City Chiefs need help at wide receiver. Their wideouts were last in the NFL last season in catches and yardage.


So it will be no surprise if the Chiefs select a wide receiver with their first pick in the upcoming draft. ESPN analyst Todd McShay introduced a new name for the Chiefs at that spot in his latest mock draft .


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

I previously noted the Kansas City Chiefs had none of the 14 players ESPN's Matt Wiiliamson listed as true No. 1 receivers (ESPN Insider access is required to read the story). The Chiefs were also shut out from Williamson's list of 11 receivers who deserve honorable mention.

Tight end Travis Kelce made Williamson's list of young players who could eventually develop into one of these receivers. But Kelce isn't there yet, so let's assume for the purpose of this argument that the Chiefs' next great receiver isn't currently on their roster.

So how do the Chiefs go about finding an elite receiver of their own? Let's use Williamson's list as a guide. First, they'll probably have to draft and develop him. None of the 14 true No. 1 receivers he lists has played for an NFL team other than the one he's on now.

Next, they'll need to find a big guy. Of Williamson's 14 elite NFL receivers, the only ones under 6-3 are Michael Crabtree of the San Francisco 49ers (6-1) and Dez Bryant of the Dallas Cowboys (6-2). The only one less than 210 pounds is A.J. Green of the Cincinnati Bengals (207).

Receiving has become a big man's game. That's not to say a smaller player can't be productive but generally speaking a receiver has to be able to win some physical battles with defensive backs and succeed in the occasional jump ball.

Generally speaking, the Chiefs will need to make the acquisition of an elite receiver a priority. Of Williamson's 14 receivers, eight were drafted in the first round, four in the second, one in the third and one in the fourth. While the Chiefs won't have to get a top receiver in the first round, they had better not wait much longer.

In a later post, we'll look at some of the wide receivers available in this year's draft and how they might fit into this criteria.
On Monday, I noted the Kansas City Chiefs have none of the 14 players ESPN’s Matt Williamson listed as true No. 1 receivers. The Chiefs were also shut out from Williamson’s list of 11 receivers who deserve honorable mention.

This development, while not surprising, was still discouraging for a team trying to establish its passing game.

Williamson has followed up by issuing a list of 13 young receivers who could someday become true No. 1 receivers. Some are already on an NFL roster, some are available in this year’s draft.

Kelce
The Chiefs again have none of the 13. But Williamson also mentions seven other receivers as worth considering for his list. They do have one of those players: tight end Travis Kelce.

Kelce was drafted in the third-round last year out of Cincinnati. It was quickly evident from offseason practices that Kelce isn’t the prototypical tight end and, accordingly, the Chiefs didn’t plan to use him as a traditional tight end.

Kelce, even at 260 pounds, isn’t much of a blocker, though he has time to develop that part of his game. But, despite his size, he has the ability to get down the field, beat coverage and catch passes.

So the Chiefs lined up Kelce in a variety of places, including split like a wide receiver, and made good use of him. But as the preseason progressed, he developed a knee ailment that eventually required surgery and ruined his rookie season before it could get started.

The Chiefs expect Kelce back at full strength next season. While it’s a big leap from being an offseason star to regular-season receiving threat, Kelce has the kind of potential to make it successfully. That potential indeed makes Kelce someone to consider as the Chiefs continue to search for consistent receiving threats.
The notion of building a team though the NFL draft and using free agency as a mere supplemental tool is a proven one. The NFL teams that have been successful over long periods during the free-agency era have generally used this method.

But it puts a lot of pressure on a team to get things right each year through the draft. It doesn’t have to get one or more eventual Pro Bowlers every year, but the teams that do in this way certainly can't afford to whiff in the draft, any draft.

Judging from their words and this year's actions, the Kansas City Chiefs plan on being one of those teams. That’s fine, but they had better use their six draft picks to maximum an advantage.

ESPN.com’s Jeffri Chadiha takes it a step further in his latest column, suggesting no NFL team needs to get it right in this year’s draft more than the Chiefs. Chadiha writes that if the Chiefs don’t find more difference-makers, they’re primed to slide backward next season after winning 11 games and making the playoffs last year.

It's impossible to argue with that. Given the way the Chiefs wobbled the last half of last season, it was obvious they would need an upgrade at some key spots for this year. Not only has that yet to happen, but the Chiefs have watched as many of their competitors, including division rivals Denver and Oakland, loaded up.

But with just six picks and only one in the top 86, immediate expectations for this year’s draft should be minimal. Because of that, last year’s draft is more important to 2014 success for the Chiefs than this year’s crop of rookies.

As Chadiha noted, last year’s draft picks were disappointing as a group. The Chiefs' rookie of the year was Marcus Cooper, a cornerback they pulled off waivers at the beginning of the regular season, and not one of their own eight selections.

For the Chiefs to go anywhere in 2014, their 2013 rookies have to get better. Tackle Eric Fisher needs to play a lot more like the first overall pick in the draft. What running back Knile Davis gave them late last season, he needs to give all season. Tight end Travis Kelce and defensive back Sanders Commings have to overcome the injuries that ruined their rookie seasons and be the players the Chiefs envisioned when they drafted them.

If this happens, then the 2014 Chiefs can prosper without much immediate help from their rookies. If not, it might not matter how the Chiefs fare in this year’s draft.
After months of research, the Kansas City Chiefs determined around this time last year they would make an offensive tackle, Eric Fisher of Central Michigan, the first pick in the NFL draft. While the Chiefs smiled and seemed pleased with their choice, there was also the understanding they were making the best of a less than ideal situation.

Fisher
The Chiefs had the first pick in the NFL draft for the first time ever and were faced with a largely unappetizing array of choices. The 2013 draft contained no can’t-miss quarterbacks or other franchise-rescuing players at other high-profile positions like outside linebacker, wide receiver or cornerback.

So the Chiefs went with Fisher, who projected to be a solid player but still seemed like a consolation prize.

Just how much of a consolation prize he was comes into better view by looking at what was available in the drafts immediately before and after. If the Chiefs had the first pick in the 2012 draft, they would now be quarterbacked by Andrew Luck.

If they had the top choice this year they could choose from a bounty that includes a player with uncommon pass-rush skills (South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney) or a can’t-miss wide receiver (Clemson’s Sammy Watkins), among others.

They could also have had any of three offensive tackles that ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper said this week he would have rated ahead of Fisher if Fisher was available in this draft. Those tackles are Greg Robinson of Auburn, Jake Matthews of Texas A&M and Taylor Lewan of Michigan.

“It’s a completely different year than last year,’’ Kiper said. “He would have been the fourth offensive tackle taken, probably somewhere between eight and 15 (overall).’’

So it’s the luck of the Chiefs that they were stuck with the draft’s top pick in a down year. Fisher’s rookie season was a rocky one, but there is reason to believe he won't become the player the Chiefs envisioned when they drafted him.

He is a very good player. But not the kind of franchise savior they could have picked had they drafted No. 1 in 2012 or 2014.
The Kansas City Chiefs have set the dates for their offseason program. The conditioning phase will begin April 21.

Practice begins May 24 with the start of a three-day rookie camp. Full-squad practices are May 27-29, June 3-5 and June 10-13. Minicamp will be June 17-19. The Chiefs generally don't open any of their offseason practices to the public and have no plans to do so this year.

Dates for training camp at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph have not been set. But the first full-squad camp practice can be held no more than 15 days prior to the first preseason game. That also has not been set, but look for that game to be played about Aug. 8, meaning the Chiefs would open camp about July 24.
The Kansas City Chiefs had one of the NFL's most unproductive groups of wide receivers in 2013, and they've done nothing in free agency to improve at the position.

It's obvious the Chiefs plan to draft at least one wide receiver in the upcoming draft. In his latest mock draft, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. Insider has the Chiefs taking one in the first round.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

The numbers for wide receiver DeSean Jackson's new contract with the Washington Redskins are in. Turns out the Kansas City Chiefs could have given Jackson the identical contract. But Jackson's contract would have been a tight fit under their salary cap and might have forced them to make some other decisions they would prefer not to.

Jackson
Jackson's deal, not including a voidable 2017 season, is reportedly for three years and $24 million. His 2014 salary-cap obligations are $1 million for his salary, $2 million for roster and workout bonuses and a $1.25 million proration of his signing bonus. So his cap number is $4.25 million this year.

The Chiefs have about $4.5 million in cap room, so signing Jackson to his Redskins contract would have left them about $250,000 of available cap room. That's not nearly enough to allow the Chiefs to do the things they'd like to do for the rest of 2014. It's not enough to allow them to sign their six draft picks. It's not enough to allow them to extend the contracts of quarterback Alex Smith and linebacker Justin Houston before they become free agents in 2015. It's not enough to allow them to make any more significant moves in free agency, now or later if someone they like becomes available.

By signing Jackson, the Chiefs would have been forced to do one of two things. The first is to restructure some existing contracts, which is bad business because it merely pushes the bills into future years. It's a good way to run into cap troubles in future years, and that's something the Chiefs want to avoid.

The remaining option is to cut some of their players. Dwayne Bowe is a seemingly perfect target, except the terms of the contract he signed last year force the Chiefs to keep him. Bowe's salary-cap costs to the Chiefs in 2014 are $10 million more if they release him than if they keep him. So cross him off your list.

The Chiefs could realize some significant salary-cap savings by releasing players like Eric Berry (about $5.8 million), Tamba Hali (about $5.5 million) or cornerback Brandon Flowers ($3.5 million). Releasing any of those players weakens the Chiefs significantly and it's a huge risk to think they could adequately replace any of them in this year's draft given that they have just one of the top 86 picks.

They don't have many other reasonable options that can provide some ample salary-cap room. If the Chiefs had Jackson, Donnie Avery would be expendable. But the salary-cap savings there would be a mere $850,000, which hardly makes it worth the trouble. That alone won't help much.

So from a financial standpoint, the Chiefs could have made Jackson's signing happen. But it would have come at a huge cost in terms of unintended consequences.
Interesting news from safety Danieal Manning that he plans to meet later this week with the Kansas City Chiefs. Manning, who first will visit with the Cincinnati Bengals, was recently released by the Houston Texans after declining to accept a pay cut.

Manning
The Chiefs lost starting safety Kendrick Lewis in free agency (to the Texans) and have a hole in their starting lineup. Until the news with Manning, the Chiefs were curiously inactive about filling that hole. They have Sanders Commings, a fifth-round pick last year, who was going to challenge for playing time as a rookie before a training camp injury ruined his season, but otherwise no obvious candidate to take the place of Lewis.

Manning, who turns 32 in August, could be that player. His 2013 season was cut short after six games because of a broken leg, but the injury shouldn't prevent Manning from being at full strength when the 2014 season begins.

The Chiefs are also looking for someone to help return kickoffs after losing Quintin Demps in free agency. Manning was once one of the league's best at returning kickoffs when he played for the Bears and their special teams coordinator, Dave Toub. Toub now holds the same job with the Chiefs.

But Manning has returned just one kickoff in each of the past two seasons in Houston.
It's clear the Kansas City Chiefs have intentions of selecting at least one wide receiver in the upcoming draft. Their near-miss with Pittsburgh free-agent Emmanuel Sanders, who wound up signing instead with the Denver Broncos, was a signal the Chiefs understand they have some work to do at the position. They could also use a skilled kick return specialist, though that need could be filled with a defensive back or running back instead.

ESPN draft analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay have ranked their top 10 receivers available in the draft Insider. ESPN Insider access is required to view their lists.

The top five receivers are the same for both Kiper and McShay, though they have them in a slightly different order. Kiper Jr. has them starting with Clemson's Sammy Watkins, followed by Mike Evans of Texas A&M, Oregon State's Brandin Cooks, LSU's Odell Beckham Jr. and USC's Marquise Lee.

McShay's order is the same except Beckham is third and Cooks fourth.

The Chiefs, whose first-round selection is 23rd overall, can forget about Watkins and Evans. They will be off the board by the time the Chiefs make their pick.

Others probably will as well. But at least one among Cooks, Beckham and Lee could be there when the Chiefs pick. From here, Beckham looks like the best fit for the Chiefs. He runs well after the catch, an important quality for a receiver, particularly given quarterback Alex Smith's affinity for shorter throws. Beckham also has the best kick return potential.

The draft is deep in receivers, so if the Chiefs choose at another position in the first round, the odds increase they will go with a receiver in another round. Kiper Jr. and McShay have Clemson's Martavis Bryant, Oklahoma's Jalen Saunders and Pittsburg State's John Brown as receivers who have sleeper possibilities in the mid to late rounds.

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